I came to Bushwick 6 years in 2006 when I bought a vacant factory building on Stockholm Street to renovate and use as my studio. My husband Eric Ploumis and I quickly got involved in neighborhood life. Councilwoman Diana Reyna appointed me to Community Board #4. Eric opened an orthodontic clinic called YoBraces for neighborhood children on the ground floor of our building. Following the lead of Laura Braslow and Chloe Bass, I participated in organizing the first Bushwick Open Studios Festival in 2007. In January 2010 I started STOREFRONT gallery with Jason Andrew at a storefront space on Wilson Avenue.
I am inspired by many things in Bushwick.
As an artist I take the visual information that I see and use it as the basis of my paintings. The neighborhood is a vibrant mix of residential dwellings and gritty factories. To outsiders the landscape may seem forbidding. Houses stand next to vacant lots filled with rubble. Shoes dangle from wires above the street in macabre clumps. Graffiti and colorful street murals are everywhere. This odd landscape possesses a simultaneous allure and menace that I take as the starting point for my paintings. I gather data from the lexicon of mundane images in my environment and reimagine them in dreamlike settings. Neighborhood staples such as satellite dishes, wire, and graffiti tags are juxtaposed with candy-colored skies, out-of-focus imagery, dark silhouettes, and painterly surfaces. The paintings represent my homage to the neighborhood and my obsession with it.
I am also inspired by the people who live on our block in Bushwick. Most folks have very few material resources, but their lives are rich in community. Many have lived on the same block for 3 generations and have strong ties to each other. A group of neighborhood kids has adopted us and comes to visit us every day. We, in turn, have gotten involved with them. We have set aside a room in our office where they can study, use the computers, and hang out. We take them to Yankee and Met games, to performances at the Bushwick Starr, to art openings at local galleries, and out on our boat in Long Island Sound. Last summer Eric set them up with car wash business using the hose from our building. We are inspired by their resilience in the face of adversity. Getting involved in their lives has changed ours.
Since I came to Bushwick, I have become friends with many other terrific artists. One of the great things about Bushwick is that you can meet everyone by getting involved in the community; the generosity of this community astounds me. Initially I met many of the people I know in the arts community in Bushwick through BOS. BOS was, and still is, a galvanizing force to bring people together, showcase the arts community, create community identity, and spur artists’ involvement in all aspects of life in Bushwick. Laura Braslow, Chloe Bass, Ali Aschman, Steve Weintraub, and the other organizers of BOS have been total game changers. It is hard to imagine what Bushwick would be like without their efforts and guiding ethos. They laid the ground rules early for the rest of us: that everyone can play, that we need to work well with others, that we should value community activism. Who wouldn’t want to get involved with people like this?
When I am away from Bushwick, I feel that I am not fully alive. It has been such a great place to be these last 6 years, and I have loved every minute of it. Those coming to BOS will sense the vibrancy of this great community in all its many aspects, from the Pentacostal sidewalk preachers to the fabulous street murals on cement factory walls, to the loft apartment galleries, to the “Food Not Bombs” collective distributing food at Maria Hernandez Park, to the thriving bodegas and barber shops. Bushwick, I have been here to participate in your newest incarnation, and I will always love you. Bushwick now and forever!
To learn more about Deborah, please visit www.DeborahBrownFineArt.com.